Thirty-two years ago on July 26th, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. A hard-fought battle for equal access for those with disabilities culminated in the passage of this overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation, and the law was a huge victory for the disabled community. While the ADA offers many safeguards and precautions, perhaps one of the most important is equal access. For each person, this looks a little different, but the goal is to put individuals with disabilities on a fair and level playing field with their peers.
For this post, I would specifically like to discuss what the ADA can offer college students and how to go about securing those offerings. The ADA itself helps to ensure that students needing reasonable accommodations, braille format, audio format, extended deadlines, a scribe, etc., are provided with such. Though these accommodations are available to students who need them, they are not automatically applied. It would be very nice if, upon arrival at a school, the accessibility department had already set up all of your accommodations; unfortunately, it is not so easy and will require leg work. As someone who has initiated and worked through this process, I have outlined five tips that will help you maximize your college experience by ensuring you get whatever accommodations you need to access your education.
1: Reach out to the Office for Students with Disabilities (or an equivalent) before you get to campus.
Starting a conversation before you get to campus will ensure that the team you will be working with is aware of your needs. Should you need special formatting, this provides them enough time to order certain materials before classes begin. To ensure this is a smooth transition from high school to college, once you settle on a school, book a meeting with an accessibility team member. Once you meet with them, outline your needs and go from there.
2: Understand the accommodations available to you.
It is important to be aware of what accommodations are available. College accommodations/ accessibility such as extended deadlines and braille are pretty universal, but there may be other, more obscure accommodations that would benefit you. In case you are not aware of what you may need, refer to your past plans, like a 504 or IEP, to be familiar with what you have previously required. You can also talk through what each accommodation consists of at a meeting with the accessibility office; this may help you figure out what is best for you.
3: Reach out to your professors.
Sending an introductory email to your professors can be really helpful in the realm of college accessibility. This helps them learn a little about you and what additional support you will need. It also opens a line of communication that can be used more extensively throughout the term should any issues arise.
4: Meet with the accessibility office regularly throughout the semester.
Try to meet at least once per month, if not every two weeks to have a general discussion. This is a great time to talk about what is working and what isn’t. If you feel that you need something additional, or that you are not using an accommodation that has already been extended to you, this is the time to say so. Accommodations for college accessibility can always be added or removed during the term, but it is better to do so when issues arise than to wait until the end of the semester and potentially jeopardize your performance in the class. It is also important to not wait until a test, substantial assignment, or the like is due, to address possible issues with your accommodations or the instructor abiding by them. Use these regular meetings to raise any concerns to set yourself up for the greatest success.
5: Ask questions!
As you navigate accessibility, you are going to have questions. While I would love to answer all of them in this post, that is sadly impossible. If something comes up that you are unsure of, confused about, etc., ask someone for clarification. The team at the accessibility office is a great resource, as are your instructors and other students who are blind or low vision who may have had similar experiences. Support systems like these are your best option as you navigate these new waters; rely on them whenever necessary!